When Your Childhood Insecurity is Actually Body Dysmorphia

When Your Childhood Insecurity is Actually Body Dysmorphia

When do vanity and insecurity go too far?
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The sides of my face didn’t match. From the front, I appeared normal enough, and my left profile was passable, but the right belonged to someone else. Nostril flaring out too much, bridge of my nose rising forward like a jagged stone mountain, massive cheek swirled with pink blotches.

Why did this patchwork rag doll have to be my own reflection? Was it the result of a birth defect, an accident while I was in utero?

I couldn’t blame my parents for my seemingly deformed physical attributes. I was adopted as an infant and had never seen a single soul who looked like me.

In elementary school, I’d agonize over my hair, wondering why it didn’t flow full and thick like other girls.’ It just fell limp, like straw. Straw hair to go with the mismatched, ragdoll face.

Whenever I wasn’t obsessing over my hair, I’d zero in on another feature, some new hamartia of my outward appearance I hadn’t noticed before. I remember thinking, what will be next? After I get over my nose/skin/hair, what’s the next obsession to monopolize my thoughts, spin circles around me like a gnat?

I use to hide behind a curtain of my hair so people couldn’t see the blotchy rosacea on my right cheek. I remember being nominated “the 3rd ugliest girl in class.” I wanted to claw out of my own skin.

How do you know what you look like? How does anyone know what they look like? Every time I’d look in the mirror, I’d appear as someone different. Every time someone took my picture, my chest filled with dread. I was a grotesque creature. A shape-shifting deformity. I knew it stemmed from self-absorption, but I couldn’t stop. Every reflective surface held a mystery.

By middle school, my fixations turned to my body. I remember doodling myself in my 6th-grade chorus binder—giant head, hair like a fistful of yarn, noodle arms, towering too tall for my age. At the time, I perceived myself as far too thin. Other girls could be stick-skinny and still look good, but not me. It wasn’t even so much my weight, as it was my shape. Abnormal.

It hurt all the worse feeling like I was alone in this. Other girls worried about being too fat, other girls got anorexic. “Real women have curves,” they said, but what about the rest of us? I was the only one too awkward and too thin, in my mind. An outcast, a walking deformity.

By high school, I’d gained weight and my self-perception of thinness vanished. It was the second semester of freshman year, and I sat on the passenger side of my mom’s car as she drove me home from school.

I noticed my face in the side mirror. Eyes dark and too serious. Pouting unintentionally. My head leaned back lazily against the seat and I was struck by the size of my face, my double chin spilling out from under it.

How'd I not noticed this before? I already knew I wasn’t skinny anymore, but god, how’d I missed that thick roll framing my chin and jawline?

It was yet another moment of insecurity welling up to drown out everything else. Then a succession of moments like that. And then the need to do away with yourself, to check off the days with steady discipline, punishing your body for its own existence.

I’d joke years later that my double chin was half the reason I’d ever been anorexic. I used to subtly reach up and trace beneath my chin with my fingers. At first, it served as motivation, a reminder: you do not need to eat. You’ve gone too far already and you have to correct it.

Then it was a checkpoint, a mile-marker: one day it was gone, all I’d felt was jawbone and skin, the curve of my chin down to my neck. It became yet another miniscule obsession, one of many places on my body I needed to check and re-check, to run my hands along, to feel the bone.

After four years of yo-yo dieting, at age nineteen my body dysmorphia changed forms again, sneaky as a chameleon. Its words were different, but the deeper message the same.

It was January of 2013, and I’d forgotten what it felt like to be warm. My weight dipped ever lower. I’d stopped wearing bras because I couldn’t stand the way it puckered out the little bit of flesh when the band clasped around my torso. In the back of mind, I recognized the irony: I was too skinny to even have boobs anymore. I didn’t need a bra, yet still felt too fat to wear one.

I couldn’t wear certain fabrics because of their texture, how it’d feel against my ribs, or against any bit of flesh, I felt the need to shed immediately. I couldn’t stand it when anyone touched my back or my sides. Only I could, and I did so constantly. Discreetly running my hands up and down my ribs, making certain I could feel their entire cage rippling under my skin.

This was when the body dysmorphia surfaced the clearest to me. I became a pawn in my game of control. Every move I made revolved around this objective. Preventing myself from bingeing, straining to hold up the peace in my family, keeping them in the dark, even as my physical heart began to suffer from the effects of my starvation. And then the game owned me.

I landed in the hospital, where I gained back most of the weight. In the days leading up to my admittance; however, I had some revelations. I started to let myself smile again. I painted my lips with color. The light shifted in the mirror.

Words popped out of the void and filled my head, repeating again and again. Control. Balance. Healing. I didn’t know what they meant at first, but they became a mantra. These were the things I could gain when I realized my own worth. They were like planets in my orbit. But they’d always been lopsided, out-of-sync, or downright lost in the darkness.

I began to explore the events in my life that had impacted me so deeply, so irrevocably. I even considered my adoption and its effect on my self-perception and some of my past behavioral patterns.

It’s hard to describe how things changed, how I finally saw myself as a person and not a walking deformity. My insecurity still exists, but it’s no longer all-consuming, literally—it doesn’t eat away at my muscles and wear down my heart, anymore.

I continue to live with shifting mirrors, photographs that haunt me—shadows, shapes, and colors sprawling into my semblance. The right side of my face still looks like a stranger sometimes, like a mismatched puzzle piece. But these days, more often than not, I can see that it really is me. And that it’s okay.

Cover Image Credit: Bekah Russom // Unsplash

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black-and-white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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5 Tips To Help You Feel Better If You're Sick

A few helpful tips if there's a bug going around.

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Not to brag, but I don't get sick very often, maybe once a year. When I do find myself a little under the weather, there's a few things I like to do for a faster recovery. I have no idea if any of these are 100% accurate, but I'd like to think they do. None of these will immediately make you feel better, but they'll help quicken the process.

Drink lots of water.

This one is a no-brainer, but it can be hard to do sometimes. I know when I'm sick, I definitely don't think about it. Water can help flush toxins out of your body, makes you hydrated, and can help you feel more awake and energized! If you're not a huge water drinker like I am, Tea also helps.

Stay home.

If you're sick, it's honestly better if you just take a day off and focus on feeling better. If you're worried about going to school or work, it's better that you don't spread anything. Let me just say, I'm fairly certain the last time I caught something was because someone behind me in a class was coughing through the entire lecture.

Rest.

This one goes with the last point, but sleeping will help your immune system fight off any infections. It's good to take some time off and get any extra sleep you can.

Clean everything.

I like to wash all of my clothes and bed sheet, because they're what I wear and touch the most, especially my pillow cases. This will help get rid of some germs and stop them from spreading. It's also good to disinfect anything you touch often, like doorknobs and table surfaces.

Take medicine.

This one also sounds like a no brainer, but seriously if you expect to feel better soon you should be taking some sort of medicine. At the very least, it'll help with your symptoms, so you're not couching or sneezing every couple minutes.

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